The victory of the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (pasok) in the Greek elections of 1981, a mere seven years after the party’s foundation, was perhaps the most dramatic breakthrough in the political recomposition of Southern Europe in the late seventies and early eighties. Its 48 per cent share of the vote and 57 per cent of parliamentary representation, almost precisely matching the results achieved by the Spanish Socialist Party in 1982, appeared to confirm pasok’s claim to have rallied behind it a new bloc of social forces committed to the modernization of Greek economy and society. The repetition of its success four years later, with only a slightly reduced majority, consolidated a position which has outlived the general decline of Eurosocialism, even if it is now showing the same signs as the psoe regime in Spain of being shaken by waves of protest against government economic policy. In the course of this article we shall try to draw out some of the reasons why Greece has so strongly participated in and then deviated from the dominant trends of contemporary West European politics.

The rise of pasok is all the more striking if we bear in mind the onslaught of capitalist–monarchist reaction against the Left in the years of repression and civil war that followed the disembarkation of British troops in Athens in the winter of 1944. Under the German occupation the Communist-led eam/elas Resistance movement had rivalled the strength and penetration even of the Yugoslav partisans, covering the country with a dense network of military and civil counter institutions that organized some two and a half million men, women and children. The subsequent demise of the Resistance—first through a fatal pact with George Papandreou’s shadowy Centre, then through military defeat at the hands of a reorganized Right enjoying full British and us support—is too well known to need retelling here. Suffice it to say that by 1949, when the Communist guerrillas finally called off the uneven armed struggle, one of the longest and most powerful experiences of popular mobilization in European history had been torn up by the roots, ironically mirroring in the aftermath of world war the destruction of the Spanish revolution that had served as its prelude at the other end of the Mediterranean. A Franco-type dictatorship was hardly an available option in those immediate post-war years. But as the Cold War descended over the continent, the traditional Greek bloc of army, throne and capital reasserted its authority over town and country, behind a parliamentary facade that excluded the socialist Left through an allpervasive police state and constantly reproduced a culture of personal patronage even within the bourgeois-liberal opposition parties.

For the early part of the 1950s the principal effort of post-war ‘reconstruction’ was literally designed to put back together the building-blocks of the peculiar social and economic structure that had taken shape over the previous century. Greece’s age-old specialization within the international economy had gradually given rise to a spectacular concentration of capital among a handful of shipping magnates, mainly based in London or New York, whose aggregate holdings are widely reckoned to exceed the gnp of Greece. footnote1 Sailing freely in the elite institutions of the West, these families formed a kind of maritime aristocracy whose eccentric pattern of accumulation raised them above the constraints of the nation-state—indeed, the national colours themselves became ultimately little more than a ‘flag of convenience’, readily exchangeable for those of Liberia or Panama if covetous land-sharks threatened to set up fiscal or other snares. However, it was not as if this fabulous wealth had sprung forth from the oceans. A sizeable part of the workforce which, elsewhere in Europe, was swept by the Industrial Revolution into factories, mines or railways came to constitute a highly skilled mariner proletariat, attached in a thousand ways to the country of its own production. No economic strategy in Greece today can hope to solve the problem of development unless it also finds a way of integrating this still dynamic component.

Interlocking in mainland Greece with the empire of shipping capital, two giant corporations—the state-directed National Bank of Greece and the privately owned Commercial Bank of Greece—not only swallowed up virtually the entire shoal of small-to-medium banking enterprises but established an effective hold over the rest of the economy. Credit policy, potentially a mighty weapon of centralized industrialization, functioned instead to starve manufacturing of the means of modernization, as a plethora of tiny, inefficient firms regenerated the pre-war focus on low-grade consumer goods. In the countryside, where the inter-war period had produced a parcellized agriculture then typical of the Balkans, the peasantry remained trapped in an economic scissors to which the banks offered no hope of relief. The swollen apparatus of the state, though heavier and more pervasive than anywhere else in capitalist Europe, had renounced any structural intervention in the productive economy and restricted itself to intermediation within well-worn circuits.

If the shape of Greek economy and society nevertheless began to change in the late fifties and sixties, the impetus overwhelmingly originated in the industrial heartlands of Western Europe. On the one hand, villages and towns delivered up their jobless and underemployed as nearly a tenth of the population—and considerably more of those of working age—joined Turks and Yugoslavs on the migration expresses to Munich and beyond, their remittances helping to create effective demand in Greece itself for the export-products of their labour on the assemblylines of the North. On the other hand, foreign capital led a significant shift away from traditional industries towards the capital-intensive chemical and metallurgical sectors. By the mid sixties nearly a third of new investment was in intermediate and certain capital-goods groups. But unlike in other parts of southern Europe—most notably Spain—no machine-based metalworking industry developed to fuel all-round industrialization, and the new sectors had all the appearances of what Nicos Mouzelis called at the time ‘capital-intensive enclaves’ in a classical land of underdevelopment. footnote2

In retrospect those heady years of the sixties—which, in different ways, placed industrial take-off on the agenda throughout the Balkans—can be seen as a false dawn. Even in Romania and Yugoslavia, the trend of the world economy in the seventies and eighties has largely frustrated ambitious industrialization programmes. In Greece, where no coherent plan was ever formulated, the early seventies already witnessed a rise in the specific weight of food, clothing and construction industries, and in the latter half of the decade manufacturing as a whole was contributing less than fifteen per cent of the annual increase in gdp, while fully three-quarters of gnp growth came from the inflated services sector. Manufacturing exports, given the small size of the internal market, had originally been conceived as one of the principal keys to success, and at first a number of important openings were found in this area. However, the recessionary tides of the seventies, together with the intense competition of low-wage economies precisely in textiles and other such goods, led to a loss of Greece’s market share everywhere except in the Middle East. By 1980, when pasok was preparing to take over the reins of government, it was possible to talk of an actual tendency of deindustrialization, as the import/export ratio of manufacturing goods had risen to 3.2:1 from 2.5:1 in 1974. footnote3

It might seem paradoxical that the economic expansion of the sixties, instead of breaking down the repressive controls inherited from the civil war, led to the creation in 1967 of Europe’s first new military dictatorship since the end of the Second World War. Certainly it would be idle to imagine that the colonels’ coup somehow corresponded to an inner logic of capital, or initiated a Chilean style of economic ‘restructuring’: all the evidence shows that, on the contrary, the junta had little or no ambition to alter the previous course of the economy. It ‘merely’ wished to prevent the modern layers of Greek society—including the most dynamic rural strata—from coalescing into a political bloc that would challenge the military–monarchist tutelage of the state. Three years of Centre Union government, between 1964 and 1967, had given good reason to believe that its return in forthcoming elections would sharpen, if not resolve, the constitutional crisis. But the option of dictatorship, in the European climate of the 1960s, proved to be one of those traps that history sets for the deluded, whereby they bring about precisely the outcome that their actions are designed to avert. Lacking any popular base to match their ‘totalitarian’ pretensions, recklessly discarding the second, royal pillar of reaction, the colonels stumbled from repression to abertura to still more bloody repression, until their insane plot to force union with Cyprus brought disaster to the island and threw the junta itself into terminal disarray.